I read an article last week about how the nonprofit Nutrition Australia has redesigned the food pyramid according to Australia’s dietary guidelines, and it got me thinking about country-specific nutrition standards. Since we’re all humans, shouldn’t our dietary guidelines be universal? Do recommendations really vary from country to country? With these questions buzzing around my head, I wanted to do some research and compare the nutrition models of different nations.
After starting this blog post by writing a pretty detailed summary of the Australian Dietary Guidelines 2013: Eat for Health, I found that the FAO already has an extensive guide to food-based dietary guidelines from around the world. So, realizing that re-summarizing them here would be waste of time, I decided to just look through a few and share my observations:
- Of the more than one dozen countries I looked at, the US was the only one whose guidelines mentioned calories. If nothing else, that’s indicative of the emphasis American culture puts on calories, which I believe is due to the obesity problem in this country.
- Many countries, including the US and Australia, list five food groups as vital: fruit, vegetables, proteins (meats, nuts, legumes, beans, eggs), dairy, and grains. South Africa, however, has seven categories: starches; vegetables and fruits; nuts and legumes; meat, poultry, fish, and eggs; milk, maas (fermented milk), and yogurt; fat and oil; and water. Others structure their guides by frequency rather than food group, such as the Spanish pyramid that categorizes foods by whether they should be eaten daily, weekly, or occasionally.
- Instead of a food guide, Brazil offers 10 Steps to Healthy Diets, which incorporate lifestyle choices like having regularly-timed meals, avoiding snacking, and eating slowly in comfortable, social environments. Sounds a lot like the Mediterranean diet.
- Some countries emphasize the idea of having a colorful diet, such as Canada’s recommendation to have at least one dark green and one orange vegetable every day.
- While most have stuck with the traditional food pyramid, where the bottom of the pyramid shows foods that should be eaten most and the apex contains those which should be eaten sparingly, some countries have more creative graphic representations, such as China’s food pagoda, Canada’s food rainbow, and Germany’s food circle.
- Several countries, including the Philippines, Georgia, and India, highlight breastfeeding for at least 6 months as being extremely important to raising healthy babies. As an American, it first struck me as strange to see breastfeeding even mentioned among health guidelines. Upon further thought, though, I realized that, in countries with high poverty rates and/or water sanitation issues, it isn’t surprising that the government would encourage people to take advantage of a free, safe way to nourish their children.
There were, of course, some overarching themes: Limit consumption of added salt and sugars, saturated fats, alcohol, and processed or fried foods. Eat whole, rather than refined, grains; reduced-fat milk products; and lean meats, with fat and skin removed. Drink lots of water and exercise regularly. These are paramount to living a healthy life, but all of the recommendations of the various nations are worth keeping in mind, too. Instead of trying to find the ultimate food guide to live by, I’d say just learn as much as you can about health and nutrition and then make your own choices. For reference, the full FAO guide can be found here.
Oh, one more overarching theme: enjoy a diverse diet. With emphasis on enjoy. Eating healthily doesn’t mean forsaking taste or quality – just look at our scrumptious Midweek Delicacies!